ESPN’s new duo has room for improvement, but McFarland is embracing his new role — and the criticism it invites — as “Monday Night Football” heads to Landover for Redskins-Bears.
“There’s a lot of scrutiny and eyeballs that come with it, but name me something in life that’s worth working for that’s not highly scrutinized and highly picked apart,” the former Buccaneers defensive tackle said recently in a teleconference with a small group of reporters. “I relish this opportunity. It’s been fun so far. There’s nothing like when that ball kicks off and you’re in that booth and you’re in that perch and you have that bird’s-eye view of watching the game that you played for almost 20 years kind of come alive.”
Witten, 37, scored his second touchdown of the season in the Cowboys’ 31-21 win at FedEx Field on Sunday. The Redskins might wish they could face the 41-year-old McFarland, who retired in 2006, instead of Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and rest of the defensive front on a Bears defense that McFarland describes as “Super Bowl ready.”
Washington’s defense, particularly its defensive line, was expected to be the strength of the team, but the Redskins have allowed 32 and 31 points in their first two games. McFarland attributed those struggles to a lack of communication in the secondary and the Redskins’ failure to generate a consistent pass rush. Improving the latter requires players to win more one-on-one battles or defensive coordinator Greg Manusky to call more blitzes.
“They don’t have great cover corners on the back end that can line up and go one-on-one, so if you’re going to blitz, that means you’re going to leave [Quinton] Dunbar and [Josh] Norman and those guys on the back end in vulnerable positions,” McFarland said. “[Ryan] Kerrigan’s gotta win one-on-ones. Daron Payne’s been doing a decent job of doing it. You’re going to have to get Montez Sweat going. When you talk about running 4.4 at the combine and you were faster than 20 or 22 running backs, whatever the stat is, hey, it’s time for all those combine numbers to show up.”
Sweat, the talented rookie edge rusher Washington traded up to draft in the first round, has yet to register a quarterback hit. Bears third-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky is still looking for his first touchdown pass of the season, but McFarland expects him to have success against the Redskins, who haven’t employed a lot of exotic defensive schemes.
The Redskins are 2-16 on “Monday Night Football’ at FedEx Field, and whatever home-field advantage they once enjoyed has disappeared in recent years, with visiting teams’ supporters regularly accounting for much of the crowd. McFarland, who spent all but the final 11 games of his NFL career with Tampa Bay, played three games in Landover, and has a different perspective of the stadium than many Redskins fans.
“It’s a great venue, just how the entire stadium doesn’t really have an open end, it’s all enclosed,” he said. “The crowd noise, the fans, it’s really turned into one of the iconic venues, just from a historic standpoint, even though it may not be the most flashy. … I enjoyed playing there. I didn’t have a lot of success, but overall, I just think there’s still something about coming and playing there, just because of how it’s shaped. You get a lot of stadiums now, like in Tampa and Seattle, that are kind of open on one end, and Washington isn’t that way.”
The announced attendance at FedEx Field was 90,098 the last time McFarland played there, a 16-10 Redskins win in Week 1 of the 2004 season. That year marked Redskins team president Bruce Allen’s first as the general manager for the Buccaneers. Two years later, Allen traded McFarland to Indianapolis for a second-round pick. Since Allen was hired by the Redskins at the end of the 2009 season, the team is 42-72.
“He’s tried to build the team up on the offensive and the defensive lines,” McFarland said of the job Allen has done with Washington. “You draft Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Brandon Scherff. You try to build a football team just the way that most GMs do around the league. Quarterback, offensive line, defensive line. I think the one signing that has been in question would be the Josh Norman piece. I think the jury’s still out on that piece, but overall, I think Bruce has done a solid job."
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